There were three special stages today on closed roads. The first two - both tarmac - were in Slovakia. The last was on sandy gravel in Hungary, near Budapest.
Two of the big Australian- entered cars are doing well: the current Asian rally champion Ross Dunkerton's Falcon V8 is sixth after scoring the fastest time on the gravel. And Terry Daly, against whom I used to race single-seaters in the late Seventies, is running fourth in a Mustang V8. He was doing more than 120mph at times on the gravel.
DAY SIX: Zegred to Rousse, Bulgaria - The longest day so far: 499 miles in 13 hours, passing through three countries. We left Zegred at 6.07am - the first car left at 6.01 - heading for the Romanian border. We entered Ceausescu's legacy about an hour later, and the massive drop in living standards was shocking. But the people were out in force cheering us on.
We stayed on tarmac all day, but Romania's roads are so appalling that all cars took a battering. Some of the potholes are big enough to rip off wheels.
We had a special queue at the Romanian-Bulgarian border, one of the most notoriously difficult crossings in Europe. Today's queue for lorries into Bulgaria stretched back five miles, which apparently is normal.
We were greeted courteously by Bulgarian officials and cheered on our way - and all the way into Rousse. Crowds lined the pavements for three miles before the finish at our hotel overlooking the Danube.
Graham Lorimer keeps the lead. Terry Hunter's Porsche - quickest today - is clawing back after running off the bridge in Austria. The Porsche has been ideally suited to the special stages: it is nimble yet very powerful. Our Escort, despite its specially prepared engine, hasn't the power to keep up with it. The Escorts in front mostly have 16-valve twin- cam engines - more powerful than our motor, but, say experts, less reliable. We'll see.
All 106 starters are still running, but some crews are having to work through the night on their cars.
DAY SEVEN: Rousse to Istanbul, Turkey - I'd long wanted to go to Istanbul, I spent most of my first and only night there in a car park underneath the Sheraton Hotel. We changed tyres and made one or two minor repairs. We'd driven across Bulgaria to the Turkish border, stopping for a nine-mile special stage - a mixture of gravel and tarmac - which wound through a forest. We were 20th quickest, which lifted us to 28th overall.
DAY EIGHT: Istanbul to Ankara - Maybe the slog is getting to me: I ended today very tired. It was hot, too, which didn't help. I finally saw the Istanbul of the travel brochures as we crossed the Bosporus into Asia. We headed east to a high, windswept area on the Sea of Marmara for today's nine-mile stage on tarmac: tight and undulating, through woods. Then it was east on long, straight, bumpy roads through old dusty towns before reaching a new motorway that led us into Ankara: a sprawling, hilly, characterless place.
A Dutch DAF which had rolled became the first car to retire from the rally. Heroic act of the day was performed by two Australian women in a Volvo. They spent all today getting their engine rebuilt in an Istanbul Volvo dealership, before driving through the night to Ankara, arriving two hours before they were due to leave again. They've lost lots of time, but are still in the rally.
DAY NINE: Ankara to Erzurum - A hard slog through eastern Turkey, with one 13-mile special stage near Ankara. We did 560 miles, mostly on appalling roads - full of gut-wrenching, car-destroying potholes. Most of the cars, and the people, are starting to look very tired and dusty. Erzurum, an old city, very Eastern and Islamic - it's not far from the Iranian border - welcomed us enthusiastically.
DAY 10: Erzurum to Ankara - Woken at 4.30am by the muezzin. Then, back whence we came, via a hilly, snow-covered area towards the Iranian border, where a special stage was held on a treacherous track covered in mud and snow.
The way back to Ankara was along the same road we used yesterday. It is the only westerly run of the rally: we need to return to Ankara to meet up with the planes that are going to transport the cars to Delhi.
The problem of poor roads was aggravated by the brisk pace we had to maintain. Our longest day to date: just over 600 miles in 12 hours.
Graham Lorimer still leads, but the Briton Francis Tuthill in a Porsche 911 is closing. We have climbed to 26th; 104 cars are still running.
DAY 11: Ankara to Ankara - We looped north of the Turkish capital to hilly, heavily wooded countryside, taking in two special stages. One went alongside a cliff, and had a drop of at least a third of a mile. There was no crash barrier.
Today, tragedy struck: a driver was killed. Brian Ginger, an Australian in a Holden Monaro, hit a coach head-on on a narrow road. It was on a transport stage (on the special stages the roads are closed). They collided on the crest of a hill, apparently, neither being at fault.
Mind you, Turkish coach and truck drivers are probably the most dangerous in the world. Almost every driver has a tale about narrowly avoiding a head-on with a lorry or bus.Reuse content